Forget Sarawak polls; Focus on battling Covid-19

Sarawak election – Image from SarawakVoice

Francis Paul Siah

IN two weeks, June 6 to be exact, the five-year term of the Sarawak legislative assembly will expire. This means that the term of the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) government is also up.

Constitutionally, fresh elections must be held within 60 days of the expiry date. This will take us to Aug 5.

The national emergency is supposed to end on Aug 1. Assuming it is not extended and barring any other constitutional exigencies, the Sarawak polls must be held by Aug 5.

However, that is unlikely to happen due to one key factor – the deteriorating Covid-19 pandemic. The increasing number of fatalities and positive cases is alarming and the appearance of new variants that are more aggressive and more infectious is of great concern.

There is a general consensus in Sarawak today that an election should not be held and that is the right and only sensible decision.

Seven months ago, I had written here that no one in Sarawak wants a state election now. Politics and elections are furthest from their minds. Their priorities are their safety and health and how to help contain the deadly virus.

From my feedback, I’m glad that politicians from both sides in my home state are agreeable to “no election” for now.

Most of them are sensible people, saying that lives, not elections, matter. This is the general feeling within political circles and among Sarawakians.

I’m glad to hear that the recent Hari Raya message from Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg was also along the “No state election” line.

Abang Johari – New Sarawak Tribune Pix

He said that the state election was not a priority of the GPS government for the time being and “it is focusing on efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19, which is still a threat”.

“The disease had taken many lives in the state and we will give priority to efforts to fight the pandemic while the state election could be held later when the situation permits,” Abang Jo stressed.

Last Saturday, the chief minister also met with Sarawak Governor Abdul Taib Mahmud to formally inform the head of state that the tenure of the current state assembly would end on June 6.

The date is five years from the date of the first meeting on June 7, 2016, after the state election of 2016. However, this provision of the state constitution has no effect by virtue of the Emergency Ordinance 2021.

Constitutionally, it is up to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the governor to decide on the appropriate date to hold the state election.

At the national level, even Dr Mahathir Mohamad has suggested that the present Perikatan Nasional government, which he strongly opposes, be allowed to rule until 2023 when the next general election is due.

Again, the former prime minister attributed his change of heart to the worsening pandemic but wanted the government to be responsible for taking care of suffering Malaysians.

The Star Pix

The opposition Pakatan Harapan is also prepared to make a concession to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin by not attempting a vote of no confidence against him in Parliament should the august House be allowed to reconvene.

What does this indicate? Elections are not likely to be called in the foreseeable future – not the 12th Sarawak election or the 15th general election.

Things will be clearer after September when we, hopefully, would have achieved the herd immunity of 70 percent in our Covid-19 immunisation programme.

Thus, it would be fair to assume that Sarawak will not likely see its state polls for another four months at least. After September, anything goes.

In any event, I see a lacklustre, monotonous Sarawak election ahead. There is very little excitement politically in Sarawak.

Aside from the Covid-19 concerns, there are very few issues that would capture anyone’s imagination for now.

The players are the same old, tired faces on both sides with no attractive agendas. New faces are few and unlikely to make an impact.

For some strange reasons, this is one election which I’m not looking forward to. For the first time, I feel that the coming election in my homeland is somewhat meaningless and irrelevant.

Francis Paul Siah is the author of Hijack in Malaysia: The Fall of Pakatan Harapan. This piece first appeared in Malaysiakini